Sunday, November 21, 2010

James Frey is the Kindest, Bravest, Warmest, Most Wonderful Human Being I've Ever Known in My Life

The infamous A Million Little Pieces author has started a publishing venture to crank out young-adult novels with the rigidly contracted help of aspiring writers. He sounds like he'd be a wonderful person to work for:

“I have very few friends who are writers … I’m a big fan of breaking the rules, creating new forms, moving on to new places. Contemporary artists like [Richard] Prince, Hirst, and Koons do that, but there are no literary equivalents. In literature, you don’t see many radical books. That’s what I want to do: write radical books that confuse and confound, polarize opinions. I’ve already been cast out of ‘proper’ American literary circles. I don’t have to be a good boy anymore. I find that the older I get, the more radical my work becomes.”

Setting aside whether finding a desperate MFA student to ghost-write the next Twilight is going to make literary history, let us consider hype. Frey uses the word 'radical' three times in this one quote, insisting that he is (a) radical. That's some high self-appraisal, but it really doesn't mean anything unless others will concur. The top results for a Googling of 'James Frey radical' brings up only responses to this New York Magazine piece. One should always approach media hype with a skeptical eye, even more so when it's the subject doing the hyping, and especially he is alone in doing so. If you have to talk about how radical you are, there's a good chance you're not really all that radical. Marketing is not radical.

For balance, let us also consider Edward Albee. Albee, author of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is also stubborn and driven (he insists on only allowing what is to my mind an inferior version of The Zoo Story to be professionally produced), but his body of work speaks for itself. Ask any theatre critic about important American playwrights of the last half-century, and Albee's name will quickly fall from his lips.

Frey could learn from Albee's approach to fame:

GREEN -- Is that, in part, a way of looking out for posterity?

ALBEE -- Who is this posterity, and what does he want?

GREEN -- You tell me.

ALBEE -- I don't know.

GREEN -- Do you concern yourself with that?

ALBEE -- No. You can't think about yourself in the third person. That's madness.

GREEN -- But you have an impulse to protect what you've done.

ALBEE -- I am the guardian of the plays that are sitting in my head that want to come out.

GREEN -- And yet you're also the guardian of the plays that have already come out. At least the temporary guardian.

ALBEE -- I don't think we should think about legacies ourselves.

For what it's worth, Albee also runs a retreat for writers and other creative types. Frey offers young would-be authors stifling contracts to hitch their wagons to his star.

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